Search form

Donate Today

Eastern Oregon Fires Grow in Size and Severity

August 13, 2015

Three fires in Eastern Oregon continue to grow in size, forcing evacuations in some areas. Both fires are expected to increase in size Thursday, given high winds, low humidity, and hot temperatures.

The Soda Fire spans the Oregon/Idaho border and has grown to 218,000 acres. At least 24,000 of those acres are in Oregon. The blaze is burning in critical sage grouse habitat and threatens homes in Owyhee County, Idaho. On Wednesday, fire officials reported that the fire traveled more than 1.5 miles in just eight minutes. 

The fire has jumped Highway 95 north of Jordan Valley in several places. The highway itself is currently closed at milepost 17. Carrie Bilbao with the Boise Bureau of Land Management said current conditions are causing extreme fire behavior. 

"We have high temperatures along with high winds and storms coming through," said Bilbao. "The fire behavior analysis today estimated the rate of spread at four miles per hour, which is extremely fast. The firefighters just really can't keep up with that."

Crews are also struggling to contain the 12,000 acre Cornet Fire, located 16 miles south of Baker City. That fire led to evacuations in an area about two miles away from the blaze Wednesday in an area called Stices Gulch. Several other areas have been issued level two evacuation notices, meaning residents should be ready to leave. The fire currently threatens at least 170 structures.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for the Cornet Fire, which allows the state to bring in additional resources.

"The Cornet Fire reminds us of how quickly a fire can grow and how dangerous these dry conditions can be," said Brown in a statement.

Just six miles away from the Cornet fire is the Windy Ridge Fire. In the last 24 hours, it’s more than doubled in size to a now estimated 9,000 acres.
“It started moving pretty aggressively yesterday (Wednesday) so our incident commander on the ground issued an order to pull resources back,” said Larry Moore, with the Bureau of Land Management’s Vale District.
Moore said the rugged terrain is making it difficult for fire crews on the ground.
“So we are attacking it aggressively from the air, especially today,” he said.
Two helicopters and at least eight airplanes are trying to establish fires lines, he said.  It’s estimated to be about 5 percent contained.
“We’re doing our best to keep these fires as small as we can,” Moore said. “Conditions have really exacerbated the severity of the fires and the complexity and it’s really stretching our resources but we’re doing our absolute best to protect lives and structures.”

Around the Northwest

More than 5,800 personnel are combating 18 uncontained wildfires around the Pacific Northwest. Both regionally and nationally, fire officials are at the highest level of preparedness: level five.
“We have a full commitment of our resources in the geographic area,” said Koshare Eagle, with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
“Resources are stretched thin and that’s one of the concerns for being at this preparedness level,” she said.
So far this year, Eagle said nearly 80 large fires in the region have burned more than 300,000 acres. Compared to last year, she said, that’s about the same number of fires, but fewer acres burned.
With a limited number of resources available to fight the large number of fires burning, weather is also a concern, Eagle said.
Lightening storms could cause new fires Thursday and strong winds forecast for tomorrow could grow existing fires.

will be removed


More than 100 fire personnel are on the scene at the Cornet Fire in Eastern Oregon.

Trisha Price